If a couple is seeking a legal separation or a divorce, the situation is always messy and confusing. There are many misconceptions caused by radically different laws that vary from state to state, and country to country.

When you factor in that a lot of people have an understanding of the legal system based only on American television, it’s clear that there is a need for the facts.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

One area of misunderstanding is how spousal support works. Important questions you need to ask an attorney include: 

  • What are the legal obligation of the spouses?
  • What are the circumstances in which one spouse must support the other?
  • Does spousal support last for life?


Before we continue there is a need to remind you that the law is a very complicated thing under the best of circumstances.

Because of the complicated nature of the law and the differences that exist between each state and territory, you need to remember that this article is not intended to represent legal advice, and is only meant to help as a launching pad to learn more about this important subject.

Before making any legal decisions, it is vital that you meet with a lawyer to discuss what your legal options and/or obligations may be.

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What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is known by many names, including alimony, maintenance, and spouse maintenance. But ultimately this term means a type of legal obligation for a person to give financial support to their spouse either before or after a legal separation or divorce.

This legal obligation differs from country to country, and is based upon either the family or divorce laws that the individual country has.

The word alimony comes from the Latin word alimonia, which means “nourishment” or “sustenance”.

The idea behind alimony was to be a rule of sustenance to assure that in the case of a divorce a wife would have had lodging, clothing, food, and other necessities taken care of.

The idea behind alimony is an ancient one, with the earliest example given was in the Code of Hammurabi around the year 1754 BC.

The modern idea of alimony comes from English courts in the cases of divorce and separation. Until recent years the only reason allowed for divorce was due to adultery or similar marital misconduct.

The laws on alimony arose from the idea that a husband’s duty was to support his wife until the marriage was ended. After the marriage ended the wife’s right to support was continued because the expectations were that if the marriage had remained intact, the wife would have been financially cared for by the husband until death.

During the 1970’s the United States Supreme Court ruled against there being any sort of gender bias in rewarding alimony.

As the stigma against men asking for alimony has decreased, there has been an increase of awarding ex-husbands support from their former wives.

What Qualifies a Person for Spousal Support?

During the legal process of dissolving a marriage through divorce, or when the marriage has been placed into the process of legal separation, either party of the marriage can petition for spousal support.

While spousal support is not a guaranteed right, it can be granted-  with the terms and amount varying based upon the circumstances.

Unless the couple has already agreed upon all the terms of their divorce in a binding contract, the court will be the one that decides on spousal support based on any testimony and legal argument submitted by the parties.

Before the court issues any order for spousal support, it will look at the whole situation. The factors the court considers range from the length of marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and the cause of divorce.

The goal of the court is to make sure that no one will be neglected or suffer unduly because of the divorce.

Different factors that may qualify a person for spousal support include:

  • The earning potential of each of the spouses
  • If there were any legal agreements decided upon before the marriage
  • The amount of debt that each member of the marriage has.
  • If the spouses were involved in a joint business venture together
  • The property and assets that are owned by each spouse
  • What each person’s financial contribution to the marriage was.
  • Any type of ongoing physical, mental or emotional handicaps or conditions
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What are the 4 Types of Alimony?

Broadly speaking, there are four main types of alimony that a court can order the partner in a marriage to pay the other one.

These four types of alimony are:

1. Temporary Alimony

Temporary alimony is court ordered support that lasts during the separation and prior to finalization of divorce.

2. Permanent Alimony

Permanent alimony is support given to a partner who earns less money and will last until either the death of the recipient, the death of the payor, or the remarriage of the recipient.

3. Rehabilitation Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is support which is given to a lesser earning partner for a length of time to help them acquire work and become self-sufficient.

4. Reimbursement Alimony

Reimbursement alimony is support which is given for the expenses that were incurred by a spouse during the marriage.

What Factors Influence the Amount and Duration of Spousal Support?

There are a variety of factors that influence the amount of money given, and the duration of spousal support itself.

Remember that if the two spouses cannot come to an agreement before hand concerning the amount and duration of the support, the court itself will set the parameters.

Things that will affect the courts decision include things like:

  • The longer a marriage has lasted will generally ensure an alimony that will last for a longer period. In the instance of a marriage that lasts for ten years or longer there are often ground for arguing for a permanent alimony.
  • Depending on the state in which the proceedings occur, the time separated before the divorce may still be counted as time married and thus factor into the length of court ordered alimony.
  • The age of the parties at the time of divorce will beat consideration. The older the spouses are the more likely longer periods of support will be ordered.
  • Many U.S. states have laws that recognize that a spouse has a right to live according to the standards they have grown used to. Alimony will often be adjusted to approximate their lifestyles prior to the divorce.
  • Another factor is how much each spouse is expected to earn in the future. The higher the future the income the greater the alimony the spouse is expected to pay.
  • If one of the partners has significant health issues and lacks the capacity to provide for themselves the court is more likely to award, then support so they will not be forced to go without.
  • If a state recognizes fault in the divorce, then they are unlikely to issue an order of support for the one who was the cause of the breakup.

What Are the Requirements for Fulfilling Spousal Support?

For spousal support requirements to be legally fulfilled, there are different conditions that must be met.

Each state has their own laws regarding spousal support, and failure to fulfill these requirements can result in legal action being taken against the offending party.

Some of the requirements may include:

  • The spousal support payments must be made in either cash or checks. Giving assets and paying off a person’s debt is not considered to be making spousal support payments.
  • The payments must match the ones outlined in either the divorce settlement or a prior written agreement.
  • Any money or payments made prior to the agreement or divorce cannot be considered as spousal support payments.
  • Spousal support cannot be claimed the same years in which joint tax returns were filed by the couple.
  • While both spouses reside in the same residence, spousal support payments cannot be paid.
  • Spousal support payments stop if either party dies.
  • Spousal payments stop if the former partner receiving the payments re-marries.
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Do Your Research and Seek Legal Advice

Divorce or legal separation is traumatizing enough without having to endure unnecessary suffering from poor decisions made on a whim.

While it is great you have begun research into seeing what your options are, it is not enough to just read online articles. It is important for you to go to the next step. Learn what you’re responsible for, what your rights are, and how the courts view situations like yours

The laws covering legal separation and divorce are complicated and require an expert to navigate safely. It is important to research all your possible options and make sure you find the help you need.

Before making any major legal decisions, make sure that you consult a lawyer whose area of expertise includes the legal separation and divorce. It is important to have expert help in this area because what you do not know can and will hurt both you and your family.

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